March 19, 2012

Dirty Pictures

Alexander "Sasha" Shulgin is the scientist behind more than 200 psychedelic compounds including MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy. Considered to be one of the greatest chemists of the twentieth century, Sasha's vast array of discoveries have had a profound impact in the field of psychedelic research. By employing unorthodox methods including, working from a makeshift lab in his home and testing his creations on himself, Shulgin has gained the reputation of a modern day alchemist within the scientific community.

At one point, Dirty Pictures transports us to Burning Man, where we watch a pack of free spirits cruising around the desert in flame-spewing tentacle-mobiles. Which is exactly the kind of blissy neon bacchanalia that springs to mind when we think of recreational Ecstasy use. But what started it all? Here, filmmaker √Čtienne Sauret gives us an endearing portrait of Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, the man who first popularized MDMA. A former Dow Chemical drug developer who went off the reservation long ago, Shulgin continues his homebrew experiments to this day. Quiet, thoughtful, and meandering, Dirty Pictures shows him puttering in his woodshed lab (a wild alchemist’s tangle), getting raided by the DEA, and hanging out with his fellow subversive chemists. A celebration of invention rather than a pro-drug screed — the “dirty pictures” are actually the molecular diagrams Shulgin lovingly draws on the outside of his chemical vials.


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